Most people consider me pretty brave. I’m the mom of six, after all. When our first three kids were in junior high, my husband and I went and had three more. As my friends like to tease, you’ve got to have guts–or be nuts–to do that.
I also sent my oldest son, a Marine, off to war. The usual things that freak people out don’t faze me.
Having everyone count on me in a crisis? That’s in the job description for a mom of six. Besides, I was a lifeguard for years. Get up in front of an audience? No problem, I used to sing with a swing band. Call total strangers and get them to tell me about themselves? Not a big deal. I was a reporter for the local paper.
It’s not that I wasn’t scared of anything, but nothing scared me so much that I outright avoided it.
Except heights. I was totally afraid of heights. Break-out-in-a-cold-sweat-with-heart-palpitations, about-to-pass-out afraid. I wouldn’t so much as stand near the window in a tall building. I didn’t even like to see anyone else up high. The kids got used to hearing me warn, “That could cause a spinal injury!”
I figured my fear of heights was just one of those little quirks that I–and they–would have to live with.
My son Mark, the third of my six kids, had other ideas. Not that he told me what he was up to (no pun intended). What he said when he called me from college with his flight information was, “I can’t wait to see you tomorrow. I have an awesome Mother’s Day surprise for you.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything,” I said. “Your visit is my gift.” Mark was putting himself through school, and I knew he didn’t have much free time, let alone money. Still, I couldn’t resist asking, “Did you make lunch reservations?”
Mark laughed. “Mom, it’s the perfect gift for you,” he said. “Wear jeans and tennis shoes and bring a sweatshirt.”
Of all our kids, Mark had the wackiest sense of humor. Was he taking me grape-stomping, like in my favorite episode of I Love Lucy?
The next day I pulled up at the airport wearing jeans and tennis shoes as instructed. Mark was waiting at the curb. “Ready for your surprise, Mom?”
“Cool,” he said. “Let me drive.”
We got on the freeway, heading toward the California Caverns. “Oh, a cave tour!” I said. That would explain the sneakers and sweatshirt.
“Nope,” Mark said. He turned off the highway near a vineyard. Maybe I really was right about grape-stomping.
But he passed the vineyard and went down a winding road to a small airport. He parked in front of a corrugated metal hangar. That’s when I saw the sign, in big block letters.
My eyes almost popped out of my head. This was his idea of a Mother’s Day gift? To scare the life out of me?
“I’m going to help you get over your fear of heights,” Mark said. “We’re going skydiving. You and me. Right now.” I shook my head almost violently. “I need to think this through.”
“No thinking allowed. That’s what makes you afraid,” Mark said. “You just have to go for it.” He opened the car door, took my arm and practically dragged me into the hangar. “You’ll be fine.”
So why did we have to sign release forms? My palms were so sweaty the pen nearly slipped out of my hand. Next we watched a “safety” video. There was so much to remember! Keep your head tucked. Make sure your feet are behind you. Arch your back.
What if I forgot something? What if there was a big hole in the chute? Maybe I should inspect it…. No time. Before I knew it, I was strapped into a tandem harness with an instructor. Now I was at the mercy of a stranger!
“It’ll be too loud to talk up there,” the videographer said. “Any last thoughts before you jump?” Last thoughts? As in What do I want carved on my headstone?
The instructors led us onto the plane. An old behemoth, like something out of a World War II movie. I took my seat, close to the door, staring at the tiny rivets holding the plane together. How did this thing even stay in the air?
The engine rumbled to life. A deafening roar filled the cabin. The plane lumbered down the runway and lifted off. We climbed slowly. (But not slowly enough, as far as I was concerned.) I looked at Mark, sitting farther back. He gave me a thumbs-up. I risked a glance out the window. My mouth went dry.
I can’t even step onto a diving board without having a panic attack, I thought. And now I’m going to jump out of a plane? Oh, Lord, why are you doing this to me?
Suddenly I recalled Mark’s admonition: No thinking allowed. He was right! It wasn’t heights that scared me. I scared me.
I’d trusted God to take care of the biggest things in my life. Wasn’t it about time I trusted him with this little quirk of mine, my fear of heights? Or should I say, my fearful thinking about heights? I mean, you can break your neck tripping over a curb.
At 13,000 feet the door opened. My instructor nudged me toward it. I peeked out. Farmland dotted with lakes. Cars moving like so many toys on the ground. We were here: right above the drop zone. Don’t think. Trust.
The instructor across from us nodded in my direction. “Go!” he shouted over the drone of the engine. I took a deep breath. Let go and let God. My version of Geronimo!
All at once I was flying, free-falling at 110 miles an hour. We were so high up that I could see the curvature of the earth. I’d literally risen above my fear. What a rush!
With a tug on the instructor’s rip cord, our parachute opened. We floated on the wind, gliding toward the grassy pad, and landed. Mark was a few minutes behind me. He gave me a huge hug. “Happy Mother’s Day!”
“You were right, Mark,” I said. “This was perfect!”
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